7 Things I learned about bad data from the Evil Queen

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(and Theresa May)

Evil Queen holding a box of bad data, a deer heart she thinks is snow white's. Text in the image reads '7 things i learned about bad data from the evil queen'
‘Heart in a box’ was indeed bad data

This article was inspired by a small article in the The Times a while back (I’m not able to find it today) which claimed that it was “bad data” that cost the conservative party votes in the snap election. I’d been joking about how the Evil Queen from Snow White was the most metric driven villain for a while, so without further delay 7 things I learned about “bad data’ from the Evil Queen (and Theresa May)

1. Start with a goal

In both Teresa’s and the Evil Queen’s case, their goal was the same: to rule the land. This is the step everyone is good at.

2. Fairest in the land: the vision of success

This is the stage where it starts to go wrong.

Often for businesses, the vision is a target number that seems pulled out of the air, such as “double our revenue in X timeframe”.

For the Evil Queen, being the fairest in the land seems pretty abstract from the goal of ruling.

For Theresa, it was to hold a snap election and get a mandate.

3. The five why’s

Evil Queen looking annoyed and bored. But if she'd asked the five why's she wouldn't be relying on her bad data heart in a box metric
Some people don’t like being asked the five why’s

If step number 2 is where people start to go wrong, then step 3 is your safety check.

It’s worth taking a moment to check your assumptions with the five why’s.

For example:

  • Q1. why does being the fairest of the land matter for ruling?
    Because people associate beauty with goodness.
  • Q2. Why is being seen as good matter for ruling?
    Because people will be more loyal to me.
  • Q3. Why is people being loyal to you important for ruling?
    Because I inherited this kingdom from my dead husband, have no heirs, and my position is very weak. Therefore I need loyalty of the people to remain in power.

We’ve actually gotten to a really important point before even getting to question number 4, so lets turn it around:

Is being the most attractive in the land the best use of available resources to making your position more solid?
Not really. Maybe drop an email to queen.Isabella@castile.es for hints and tips.

The five why’s applied to the Tories would have gone something like:

  • Q1. why now the best time to hold an election?
    Because Corbyn’s unelectable and may be out soon so now is the best time.
  • Q2. Why is he unelectable?
    Because he’s a jam making socialist with an allotment.
  • Q3. Why is being a socialist unelectable?
    Because people are insecure about jobs and money.
  • Why are people who are insecure about jobs and money opposed to socialism?


The assumption is flawed, and it’s flawed about enough of the UK population to result in a hung parliament, as it turned out.

Some people get defensive about being asked these kinds of questions because they think their target goal is “obvious”.

I was having an informal conversation with a friend of a friend, a lady who runs a small business. She didn’t like being asked why having a message board was important to success. But a message board needs sensitive and perpetual moderation, clear community standards, and community building efforts to keep it active as well as additional hosting costs, which is a lot of additional time and costs for a one woman outfit.

Before undertaking a “Self-evident” strategy, you need to drill down and ask the questions, because there might be a more direct, inexpensive solution.

Before investing in a 'self-evident' strategy, drill down and ask the questions. Click To Tweet

4. “and so?” : The strategy

If the five why’s aren’t followed, you’ll roll ahead with a strategy that may yield the opposite results.

For Queenie, her unchecked “and so?” lead to “kill the prettiest girl in the land”. For Teresa, it was to encourage labor voters to vote, since Tory HQ were sure that Corbyns’ unlectability would equal votes for Tories.

5. Check your goal alignment

Does your vision align with your strategy?

The queen’s answers to the five whys showed that her underlaying need was to win hearts and minds to secure loyalty. Hunting teenage girls does not align to that need.

snow white running through the forest, because not asking the 5 whys leads you to create a one person version of the hunger games
This is what happens when your vision and strategy don’t align.

But I can’t blame the Evil Queen too much. It’s not like she had two advisors and campaign strategists at hand.

6. The Metric: how will you know the goal has been achieved?

Finally, we get to the part where metrics come into play.

I have to give it to the Evil Queen because in a day and age of fuzzy goals, “heart in a box” is as black and white as you can get.

For the Tories it was higher voter turnouts in Labour areas.

In both cases, you have to ask “can this metric be misinterpreted?”

  • “Does higher voters in Labour areas really mean they’ve voted for you?”
  • “Are you going to DNA test that heart, love?”

7. Test often and change strategy until you get results.

Evil queen holding a vial and beaker because she's all about creative problem solving and data driven decisions.
“try a new strategy-test-repeat” is for winners.

When the Evil Queen received Snow’s ‘heart’ in a box, I like to imagine she drank Cava, played Dancing Queen on loop, and had a monologue to imaginary Snow White in the mirror. We’ll never know.

What we do know for sure is that the next morning she checked in with her magic mirror, same as always.

And when she saw the heart-in-a-box metric was flawed, did she ever change track, testing her methods with her mirror each time until she got results.

First, there was a magic belt that cut off snow white’s breathing. Then there was the poisoned comb, and finally the poisoned apple.  That’s adaptability and data driven results.

In this department, it’s Evil Queen 1: Theresa May 0 because tory MP’s and May herself knew the strategy wasn’t working, but they didn’t – were not allowed to- change track.

The take-home about ‘bad data’:

It’s easy to blame ‘bad data’ from opinion polls and magic mirrors, but both are is just one step in a chain of decisions and strategies made by people. People can interpret data wrongly because they’re too invested in one outcome. People can set flawed strategies and metrics to measure the wrong things.

In other words, if you want “good data”, get good data people. That means people not too clouded by a particular “need” for a specific outcome, or strong beliefs in how things are or “should be”, “will be” or “always have been”.

You need an open, curious mind to interpret data fully — and to hear it’s interpretation– without delusion. Click To Tweet

It seems too much of the world prefers to downplay their role in bad strategic decisions and regard data as only so much smoke and mirrors that lead them astray.

Magic mirror from snow white, showing a face in a haze of purple smoke.

This article first appeared on medium under the title “Everything I learned about “bad data” from the Evil Queen”.


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